I love playing games from smaller developers because they tend to bring a lot to the table. They can’t market themselves as a major experience like an AAA can, nor do they have established mechanics to guarantee sales or franchise to cash in on, so they live and die based on how fun or unique they are. Sword of the Necromancer combines action-RPG with rogue-like and throws in some necromancing for a neat combo, though is it enough to sell the concept?
Sword of the Necromancer starts with Tama coming to a crypt where a Necromancer is said to have the power to, well, bring back the dead. Motivated by love, Tama tries to transverse the crypt in hopes of bringing back Koko but gets more than she bargained for. Progression unlocks more to the story, ultimately explaining everything before and after where the game began. At times it can feel generic or unoriginal, but this is the least of Sword of the Necromancer’s problems.
As a huge fan of Roguelike games, such as Enter the Gungeon and to a lesser extent Dead Cells, Sword of the Necromancer I found myself disappointed by this experience. Not just because of how unenjoyable it is but due to the sheer number of conflicting elements.
If you play the intended way, each unsuccessful run results in equipped items being lost, along with half of the levels you obtained. After a couple of failures, this can be disabled, which I strongly suggest doing, it makes the poor choices even more confusing. For example, pots, boxes, and other breakable items in rooms can give you resources. These can be used to enhance gear at the forge at the start of the dungeon, though the sheer amount of resources is baffling, to say the least. After two successful runs and quite a few unsuccessful ones, I had the ability to craft roughly six attributes out of a possible 60 or so. Of those I can add to a weapon, most of them are negative attributes like damage -50 percent. To make matters more fun, only specific items found on runs and put into your inventory can be upgraded. Resurrected monsters, the actual sword of the necromancer, and certain resources like my four attribute grimoire do nothing.
So, basically, those interested in playing a lot or have issues beating the story, can collect specific pieces of gear, give them a marginal boost, and if you’re playing as intended, have a single run where you might win due to better gear. Needless to say, the mechanic feels pointless and makes a number of elements pointless. Most times it’s better to just use the sword of the necromancer, as you don’t lose that on death and it acts the same way each and every time.
To make matters worse, your actual inventory is limited to four slots. So, even if I want a super awesome weapon, it comes at the price of something else. It also limits the cool things you can find. Not only does swapping one item for another result in the first item being lost, but things also come at a hefty cost. As useful as a revive token might be, oftentimes getting a more practical piece of gear will do more to keep my run going. And, in my most successful runs, I simply ran anything with experience and my sword. Unfortunately, the necromancer mechanic uses the same slots and has the same rules.
After defeating a monster, typically through repeated slashes as the enemy gets ready to attack, there is an option to revive it. Some of these monsters are frightening, I used one on the first boss and it killed it in three hits, whereas others are borderline useless. For better or worse, summoning is a rather hit and miss mechanic that often times misses more than it hits.
Instead of having a companion you can control or at least follow you around, summoning a monster basically makes them appear in a single spot and interact with the area as it wants. Sometimes this can be an extremely powerful ally, like in my boss example, though most times it’s a useless beast that runs around doing nothing only to die to something random. Even this would be fine if the system was better designed.
Depending on your luck, enemies have a variety of attributes. While no formal listing appears in Sword of the Necromancer, certain colors are of higher rank than others. These will have more power and often times be outright better than another monster. Players can overcome this by leveling a monster, though even this can be hit and miss. For example, one of the best companions I had leveled and learned -50 percent damage, so by leveling it I decreased its power by half, essentially making it useless.
All of this is wrapped in a fairly lackluster package. Despite levels being randomly generated, bosses remain the same and there are only 20 or so total enemies. Often times it will feel like you’re playing the same levels endlessly, even if they’re technically different. To make matters worse, Sword of the Necromancer feels particularly uninspired.
So many enemies and things have particularly literal names. Fleyes are flying eyes, sprinsioner enemies are prisoners that spin, there are faries that buff called buffary and even the impcher is just an archer imp. For items we have jewel of baffle that has a chance of confusing someone or aliment cure for curing ailments. After a while, it loses its charm and is simply annoying, all of which would be fine if the core gameplay was fun.
Generally speaking, levels are pretty basic. You wait for an enemy to attack, use some kind of attack and keep going until you win or die. There isn’t a lot of depth like a bow simply gives you a distance attack, swords swing, and so forth. Often times the depth comes from what to equip, though that also limits options. I can’t have a bow, sword, and spear, along with bringing back multiple monsters. I might be able to bring back to monsters, hold onto the sword and possibly have a bow or some other combo, though most times you’ll be using monsters and/or bringing items that boost stats passively.
Sword of the Necromancer Review – Verdict
For the most part, Sword of the Necromancer is decent fun in a rather flawed package. I can’t imagine anyone could have fun playing with decreased levels and losing gear since even without that stuff it isn’t particularly amazing. Toss in lazy enemy names, kiddie pool level depth, and a generic story, and Sword of the Necromancer falls short of where you want to be. Especially when there are so many other games that handle rogue-like elements better. Maybe if it goes on a deep sale it might be worth it but at full price, it’s a hard sell.
[Editor’s Note: Sword of the Necromancer was reviewed on PlayStation 5 and a code was provided to us for review purposes.]